Category: Fundraising

When is a nonprofit not charity?

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In our 2018 nonprofit sector analysis, Benefacts introduced a large body of newly-available data: the local nonprofit organisations (clubs, societies, branches of national associations) that are registered with their local county as part of the Public Participation Network structure. Only 17% of these are registered charities, and a significant proportion of those are primary and secondary schools.

In this summary of her presentation to the seminar launching the report, Oonagh Breen looks at the proportion of registered charities relative to the full population of nonprofits, and discusses how Ireland compares with some other jurisdictions around the world, in terms of the full extent of the third sector.

Now that we are beginning our second year with this data from Benefacts, I wanted to look at how we are mapping the non-profit sector and to ask that question that we always do, because we live on a small island. How do we compare with the rest of the world? I want to raise this and some other key questions here this morning. – even if I can’t answer them all – because I think these are the types of things that we should be thinking about. What size is the sector in Ireland and how do we compare to other countries? Who is doing the counting? How does the size of our non-profit sector compare to our registered charity sector? How rich is civic engagement per capita – meaning, how “thick” is society here, how connected are we to one another? We certainly have this idea of ourselves in Ireland as a very generous nation. When we dig down into the data, how many of these questions can we answer?

So the first thing I want to highlight is the new data, specifically non-profits registered with their local authorities through public participation networks (PPNs), most of which don’t appear on any other register. The PPNs are really interesting, because they take us to the grass roots of society. They are the sort of organisations that you are involved in at a local level, that you go out to when you come home from work, that you mightn’t even think of as a charity or as a nonprofit, even though you are a signed up member and you pay a subscription every year. These clubs, associations and societies are an essential feature of the landscape of Irish civil society and in recent years they have started to be registered under the 2014 Local Government Act which means that of the 31 local authorities, 29 so far have started to make their lists available. This body of data is going to grow — both the numbers of associations listed, and the group of local authorities providing data — so this time next year I’ll be saying, there are 31 local authorities and we have 31 published lists.

The registers collected by PPNs celebrate local civic engagement, which they record under 3 headings; social inclusion, community and environment. So if you go into any of these lists, you’ll find your residents’ association, you’ll find the local playgroup, you’ll find the active retirement association, you’ll find the scouts, the girls guides, the men’s sheds. All of those things add up to define our nonprofit culture and nobody has mapped this before. So what we have here is a massive piece of new data. Massive in the sense that at the moment, as at the end of Quarter 1 this year, 9,000 local bodies have been brought into the Benefacts database, of which the majority – 83% – are new to Benefacts, in the sense that Benefacts hasn’t found them on any other registers (such as the list of companies, or associations that benefit from charity tax relief, or registered charities).

So where do we sit compared to everyone else? Let’s start with New Zealand, because at 4.7 million people they have a population very similar population to ours and, according to Statistics New Zealand, in 2013 there were 114,000 non-profits. That’s 114,000 compared to 29,000 reported by Benefacts at the moment in two countries with a similar population. Another important comparative statistic is the number of registered charities as a proportion of all non-profits. New Zealand has more than 27,000 charities or 25% of the non-profit sector there, if you do your math, compared to 29,000 non-profits and just under 9,000 registered charities here.

Now they have been counting non-profits and charities since 2005, so New Zealand has a 10 year head start on us. But even back in 2005, they had 97,000 non-profits on the list, so we have a bit of a way to go, if we think we are as connected as they are. But maybe there are thousands more non-profits out there and we just haven’t mapped them yet. Now keep those figures in mind and let’s see how they compare with the other jurisdictions I’m going to look at briefly.

Next door neighbour Australia, with a much bigger population at 24 million people, had 600,000 nonprofits according to Australian Productivity Commission in 2010. Quite a big number, but then it’s a big country. When I talk about who’s doing the counting, I asked the question, how do they know they have 600,000?


When I checked with my international contacts in Australia, they said, it’s a bit of an estimate, we are not really sure, we don’t have a Benefacts model where we can tie down who each of these bodies are, using a unique identifier. Our researcher did some work in the 1990s, and that’s the estimate we decided to run with: 600,000 non-profits of which 55,000 are registered charities. In Australia they started counting charities in 2013, so again, a little bit before us, but not much. So to do the math again, only 9% of Australian non-profits are registered as charities, which means they make up about one-tenth of the non-profit sector. But the big caveat is we are not sure about the reliability of that estimate of 600,000 is: it might be a lot more, it might be a lot less.

Canada is another big common law jurisdiction with 36 million people, so 9 times bigger than Ireland. In 2005, the Bureau of Statistics in Canada estimated that there were 170,000 non-profits in Canada. Now that figure is interesting, because when I went to talk to my Canadian friends last week, I discovered that that figure includes only incorporated non-profits: unlike Ireland (thanks to Benefacts), they have no data on unincorporated non-profits. When they carried out some research in this field, they went for the available registers, the easy ones to count. Corporations are always much easier to count than unincorporated organisations. So that figure of 170,000 is probably very under-stated. As regards registered charities in Canada, the number is 86,000, which means 50% of the non-profit sector is composed of charities.

Closer to home, the population of the UK is 65m if you include Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales. If we combine all of their different charity registers, the aggregate number of registered charities in the UK is 315,000. Last time they issued a figure for their non-profit sector (from the Civil Society Almanac which is quite a reputable source, updated annually), the figure was 900,000 and that was in 2014, so the percentage of charities relative to the total population of non-profits was 35%. Unfortunately, every year since then, they only count the registered charities, which is a much smaller number, so we have lost out. And again you wonder about the thinking behind not collecting all of the data – is it a funding question? In any case, in the UK, charities number 35% of the wider non-profit sector.

Which brings us to Ireland. Our population is very similar to New Zealand at 4.8m people. We know from the Benefacts database that we have 29,000 thousand non-profits and counting, and we know from the Charities Regulator that the most recent publicly available figure for the number of registered charities – from November 2017 – is 8,862 registered charities. This puts us in around the same proportion as the UK in terms of the ratio of charities to non-profits.

So what does all of that mean? I’m not a statistician, but I’m interested in the profile of non-profits and charities in countries similar to ours around the world and I’ve made a study of regulatory regimes for charity internationally. One of the things I’m curious about is density of non-profits in different jurisdictions. So to compare the small number of examples I’ve just given, New Zealand comes best out of this analysis. For every 100 people in New Zealand there are almost 2.5 nonprofits. Australia is about the same, but their data is less reliable because it’s based on estimates. In Canada, based on the available data (which as we know excludes all of the unincorporated non-profits), it’s only half a non-profit for every individual – so the number might grow to 1 per 100 people if we added those in. The UK proportion of non-profits is almost 1.5 for every 100 people, and then we come to Ireland, using the new figures supplied by Benefacts today, we are just over half a nonprofit for every 100 people in the country. And if that is not your lived experience, if you think you come into contact with more non-profits, we need to make sure that the data gets into the Benefacts database.

So here’s my parting thought. When we think of non-profits in the broader sense, most are a product of the engagement of individual citizens and their voluntary contributions of time and money. In many ways – that outcome, that product – is what makes us who we are; the culture and the vibrancy of our non-profit community is what makes us Irish. It is the civic glue that sticks us together as a country. So if we can fill the gaps in our understanding of the entire non-profit sector and not just registered charities, if we can better understand our society in terms of the jigsaw pieces that make up the third sector in Ireland, we are going to be able to make better policy choices for the future.

If you read Benefacts 2018 sector analysis report you’ll see that Patricia Quinn estimates that the 29,000 non-profits she and her team have identified will grow potentially to 40,000, when all of the locally-based organisations have been registered on their local public participation networks and included on the Benefacts database. And if Patricia has read the crystal ball correctly, our numbers change dramatically, because Ireland’s cohort of non-profits will be shown to be closer to 1 non-profit for every 100 people in the country. That looks far healthier relative to our international peers, and it demonstrates why Benefacts’ analysis is such an important project in terms of our understanding of the third sector in Ireland.

When is a charity not a nonprofit?

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In our 2018 nonprofit sector analysis report (p29), we flagged the fact that there are public bodies which we don’t include in the Benefacts Database of Irish Nonprofits, even though they are currently listed on the Public Register of Charities.

These were deemed to be charities when the provisions of the Charities Act 2009 were commenced in October 2014, because they had previously been granted charitable tax relief by Revenue. However the fact that they are public bodies means they cannot be considered autonomous of Government.

Name CRA number
Arts Council 20007386
Cavan and Monaghan Education and Training Board 20083304
Chester Beatty Library 20009571
Citizen Information Board 20048020
City of Dublin Education and Training Board 20083236
Commissioners of Irish Lights. 20002794
Cork Education and Training Board 20083274
Crawford Art Gallery Cork 20072926
The Discovery Programme: Centre For Archaeology And Innovation Ireland 20036973
Donegal Education and Training Board 20083441
Dublin and Dun Laoghaire Education and Training Board 20083526
Leargas – The Exchange Bureau 20020330
Gaisce – Gradam An Uachtarain – The President’S Award 20020903
Galway Roscommon Education and Training Board 20083427
Health Service Executive 20059064
Heritage Council 20036867
Irish Blood Transfusion Service 20006280
The Irish Heritage Trust Company Limited By Guarantee 20061609
The Irish Manuscripts Commission 20063559
Irish Museum Of Modern Art Company 20012793
Irish Water Safety Association 20058364
Kerry Education and Training Board 20083243
Kildare and Wicklow Education and Training Board 20083465
Kilkenny and Carlow Education and Training Board 20083434
Laois and Offaly Education and Training Board 20083380
Legal Aid Board 20012489
Limerick and Clare Education and Training Board 20083830
Longford and Westmeath ETB 20083762
Louth and Meath Education and Training Board 20083458
Mayo, Sligo and Leitrim Education and Training Board 20083472
National Digital Research Centre 20066208
POBAL 20029609
Teagasc Head Office 20022754
Tipperary Education and Training Board 20083595
Waterford and Wexford Education and Training Board 20083281

For a definition of what is meant by a public body, and the current full list of these, go to the Register of Public Sector Bodies (including General Government Bodies) in Ireland on the website of the Central Statistics Office, updated April 2018.

Nonprofit Sector Analysis 2018: Understanding Ireland’s third sector

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19th April 2018: Benefacts second sector analysis report published, incorporating new data from 9,000 local nonprofits and 63 international philanthropies.

When we started building the Database of Irish Nonprofits in 2015, we relied on all of the open data then available, and we were able to find almost 20,000 nonprofits on the registers of about half a dozen national public bodies. We reported on these in April 2017. This year, the number of nonprofits in the database has grown to 29,000, and two important new sources of data have informed our report.

The first is the registers of smaller local nonprofits that are now being compiled by Public Participation Networks in 31 local authority areas around the country, under the 2014 Local Government Act. With the benefit of information newly published on PPN websites, we have added 9,000 additional local clubs, societies and associations to the database, classified them, added a unique identifier and included the data in our 2018 Nonprofit Sector Analysis report – Understanding Ireland’s third sector. In another few months, these local nonprofits will be incorporated in the new version of benefacts.ie and added to the datasets that we provide to the Central Statistics Office and publish on the Government’s Open Data portal.

The second new source of data informing this year’s report is the Foundation Center in New York, whose President Brad Smith spoke at our launch in Dublin today 19th April 2018. Thanks to data harvested by his organisation from public sources – not just in the US but elsewhere around the world – we have been able for the first time to quantify philanthropic giving into the Irish nonprofit sector on the part of 63 overseas philanthropies whose aggregate giving – excluding the contributions from the Atlantic Philanthropies and the Ireland Funds – amounted to nearly €10m in the latest year for which we have a full set of data. Read more about the data in our 2018 report here.

Speaking at the launch, Brad commented on a number of the aspects of transparency served by providing nonprofits and their stakeholders with a data infrastructure:

  1. He pointed out that public goods are no longer the sole province of the public sector, given resource constraints, the growing complexity of the societies in which we live and the challenges we face. The Third Sector in all its diversity is playing an ever important part in promoting the public good. We have good data on government and the private sector….we need to have just as good data on the nonprofit sector
  2. He said that the very diversity of the Third Sector makes collecting data on it a challenge. Different parts of it are regulated by different national and local government agencies, parts of it can be informal, and largely unregulated, and its organisational forms are evolving.
  3. When it comes to compiling data on the Third Sector, data beggars can’t be choosers, and we can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The market and political pressures that drive data quality and data standards in the private and public sectors are only beginning to emerge in the “social sector.” The partnership between the Foundation Center in New York and Benefacts in Dublin accelerates the pace at which data is being collected, increases rigour and precision, shares techniques and technology for its cleaning and coding, and greatly enhances its comparability across national boundaries.
  4. Taken in a global context, Brad said that the new Benefacts Sector Analysis report – and the comprehensive view it gives us of Ireland’s Third Sector – stands out as something few countries have been able to achieve, outside of the Anglophone world. He painted a fascinating picture of the one prominent exception – China. There, state and provincial reporting requirements supplemented by a strong, independent organization which essentially cloned his organisation, the Foundation Center (with their cooperation) to produce searchable data, trend analysis, and solid research on the fast growing foundation and NPO sector. The combination of public reporting requirements and a strong, independent data and research organization like Benefacts have proven to be the essential ingredients, he said.
  5. Civil Society is where the values of compassion, empathy, sharing, and solidarity that hold societies together are practiced on a daily basis. The issues on which nonprofits work –human rights, anti-discrimination, homelessness, violence against women, or the arts –are essential to our wellbeing. Only by understanding the entire sector–how it works, what it does, and the financial flows that support it—can we learn what succeeds, what doesn’t, how to leverage each other’s efforts, and to work at scale.

We’ve been busy

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It’s been a while since we published any news about ourselves, so here’s an update!

We are delighted to have completed the negotiation of new three-year funding agreements with the Ireland Funds and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for our contribution to making the work of all Irish nonprofits more accessible and more transparent.

We’ve been working on our second annual sector analysis report, for publication mid-April. This year’s report will contain more analysis of Ireland’s philanthropy sector – watch this space.

We’ve welcomed some new staff to the executive team at Benefacts. Declan Burke has joined as principal data architect – he’ll be managing the transition to a data warehouse that is better adapted to the volume of data we’re processing, and the growing demands for data-related services. Myles Dolan is our new software design engineer – he’s working with Declan and with principal software engineer Jeff Eldridge to improve the quality and effectiveness of our data processes. Kate McCarthy has joined us as data analyst, bringing her extensive experience in data mining and interpretation to our growing ticket of analysis projects. And Paula Nyland has stepped up to a more senior management role, overseeing Benefacts operations as well as leading all of our financial analysis processes. See the full list of Benefacts people here.

We’ve initiated an overhaul of our website with many functional enhancements as well as significant volumes of additional data. We’ve had a lot of feedback since the site was originally launched nearly two years ago – if you’d like to offer any insights into how benefacts.ie could work better for you, please take our survey and look out for Benefacts.2 in the summer.

Finally, we have produced our own directors’ report and financial statements, completed the audit, held our Annual General Meeting and filed our 2017 return to the CRO. Download Benefacts latest annual report here.